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Manawatū - Rangitīkei Conservation Awards

Date:  17 September 2010

The 2010 Conservation Award winners for the Manawatū Rangitīkei area are two women who have contributed significantly to conservation over the years, particularly in their work to protect the unique coastal eco-systems of this region.

Dr Gillian Rapson and Hilary Relvyn Robson were recognised and celebrated at the Forest and Bird meeting at Palmerston North this week. Jason Roxburgh, Area Manager for the Department of Conservation (DOC) who presented the awards praised their efforts. “Your commitment and enthusiasm is impressive” he said, “not only in advocating for conservation, but also your hands on approach”.

Dr Rapson, who prefers to be known as Jill, has taught ecology at Massey University for over 20 years, having come originally from the South Island. Despite growing up in the Canterbury plains, where she says there were no native plants to be seen, Jill developed a keen interest in botany. “My first worm dissection put me off zoology” she said. “I became a botanist so I didn’t have to hurt anything”.

An interest in plants and ecology feeds her hobbies as well as her career, having been a member of Forest & Bird for more than 20 years and co-founder of the Manawatu Botanical Society. Other current roles include being secretary of Keebles Trust; a community project to restore a lowland forest remnant, and chair of the Manawatu Estuary Trust. Her practical assistance in dune restoration work, hand pulling weeds, and supporting DOC education programmes and interpretation projects are all done in her own time.

Hilary Relvyn Robson monitoring katipo spiders in the Tangimoana dunes.
Hilary Relvyn Robson monitoring katipo
spiders in the Tangimoana dunes

The other award recipient is Hilary Relvyn Robson, an accomplished artist with a love for the wild and weird places plants and animals of New Zealand. Having moved from Wellington twelve years ago, she is a well respected member of the Tangimoana community.

Through her involvement in the coast care group, Hilary began growing rare coastal plants for restoration projects. Since then, she has joined DOC at community plantings and pink ragwort pulling days. In 2008, Hilary committed to a year long katipo monitoring project. “I loved it” she said, “it was so interesting seeing the spiders and their behaviours – not just the katipo but all sorts of wildlife”.

Hilary’s art is a wonderful advocacy tool for conservation. She can often be found on the beach working on her paintings. Several of them were included in two local conservation themed art exhibitions last year. She helped source and display art for a Sea Week exhibit at the City Library, and was one of the contributing artists for the ‘Slugs, Snails and Spider Tales’ exhibition at Te Manawa for Conservation Week.

Hilary has been instrumental in building communication lines between DOC and the Tangimoana community. For a time, she edited the Tangimoana community newsletter and made an effort to “load it with conservation messages and information”. These days, she spends quite a lot of her time with visitors to Tangimoana, talking about the damage vehicles can do to fragile coastal environments. “I talk to people with motor bikes a lot. I tell them that the dunes and mudflats are home to lots of special plants and animals that they are helping to drive them to extinction. I don’t know what effect it has, but at least they know”.